When I was younger I would spend days in the garden digging for bits of history. I was fascinated by finding little chinks of old china or the thought of stumbling across a Roman coin. The field next to my house was apparently full of them; not that I ever found one. I’d go to the beach with my Grandpa and search for fossils, bringing them home and putting them on my shelf, along with a jar of old pieces of shiny stones, that I cleverly labelled ‘Katie’s Gems’. Until I was about 12, I wanted to be an archeologist (or an author because of Jacqueline Wilson but since ’50 Shades of Grey’ somehow became a bestseller I don’t think I’ll bother). I don’t remember changing my mind about my future career, but I remember it involving the realisation that I would eventually dig up bodies. Not a fan. Shiny coins yes, bodies no. I evidently had gold-digging aspirations from a young age.
I was lucky enough to get complimentary tickets to the TutanKhamun exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, which I had been wanting to go to for ages; the holy grail of digs that even Indiana Jones wasn’t able to get close to. It takes you on the perilous journey of Howard Carter – who discovered the infamous mummy – right inside the tomb nestled in the Valley of Kings, Egypt.
The curation of this exhibition was certainly apt; navigating the rooms that lead on from one another mimicked Carter’s exploratory tour of the tomb itself, of which the original map can be seen in the second part of the gallery. The lighting was low and there were several blown-up photos of artefacts Carter had discovered. The X-ray of King Tut’s – as he was dubbed in the 20s – brain was remarkable to look at, as well as the photo of his mummified head. Methods of excavation and photography at the time of it’s discovery in 1923 were astounding. I was also hit by the modernity of the Egyptian artefacts: chairs, shoes, bed frames which would not look too much out of place in today’s shops.
The last room was the most effective for me; the high ceilings and open space draws parallels to the opening of the sarcophagus and thus the discovery itself. Memorabilia concerning the Western reaction to the King’s discovery were fascinating to see here. Issues of colonialisation and the power of the West were lightly touched upon, claiming there was much uproar over the lack of local involvement in the excavation. Issues which are still, if not more, prevalent today. Moreover, the girl in me fell in love with the Egyptian inspired 20s jackets. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen similar things in Zara recently. This particular one was made in Paris:
The archeologist part of me loved exploring this era and it’s definitely worth the expedition if you’re in the area. It’s recently been extended to the end of November due to popularity and there’s also the added bonus of the Ashmolean Dining Room – a rooftop restaurant with sweet views and great food. The only disappointment was that the mummy itself wasn’t there. But the artefacts and shiny things have always been enough for me.